This page contains two separate scenes, the end of Act 2.6 where Lorenzo and Jessica meet up and the beginning of Act 2.7 where the prince of Morocco chooses one of Portia’s three caskets. Both scenes contain themes on judgement, comparison, and religious context. Words associated with judgement, comparison, and religion were color-coded as red, green, and purple, respectively. These themes were emphasized due to their relevance to the rest of the play, such as in the courtroom scenes later on or the scenes throughout with religious differences between Christian and Jewish characters, and because of the ways these three themes might interact with each other.
For example, judgement and comparison are linked in such a way that it is difficult to discuss one without the other. Judgment means either deciding a best course or characterizing a subject, which involves on some level comparing what is being judged to other things as a frame of reference. Likewise, a comparison between two or more subjects requires judging the qualities of those subjects.
Similarly, judgement and comparison connect to religion, with judgement bringing connotations of “divine” judgement and comparison evoking the process of going to heaven or hell. For example, if “judgement” refers to considering a subject’s character, then God and his “divine” judgments are involved as the ultimate judges of character (from a Judeo-Christian outlook). On the other hand, if “judgement” refers to deciding a course of action, then God and “divine” judgement may be invoked as a means of guiding one to the right action. Finally, in terms of comparison,“divine” judgement of the soul can be seen as comparing the good versus the bad of those who die as a means of determining their afterlife.
In discussing judgement, we wanted to ensure that our transcription placed readers on equal footing with each other to facilitate equal opportunity to evaluate the passage. The hope was that readers both new to and well-acquainted with Shakespeare could make judgements on the passage and compare those judgements without either party being disadvantaged due to outdated spellings or excessive revision. Our philosophy was to only edit or explain features that detracted from the overall clarity of the passage while preserving the original text as much as possible.
We balanced both accessibility and preservation of the original text—modernizing or editing features that made the text difficult to read for modern readers but avoiding editing the meter and the words themselves. In preserving the formatting of the text, we saw no reason to remove the heading but decided not to include the signature because we believed it would confuse new readers. We also maintained the slight indentations before character labels and alignment of stage directions because both are easy to read. Our modernization took some cues from The Norton Shakespeare edition when defining words or phrases that may be confusing to new readers. We also expanded on some additional sections we personally believed required more context or explanation. For ease of reading, we modernized the spelling of words, including removing the medial “S”, as most new readers would likely struggle with the outdated language. We also spelled out abbreviated character labels but preserved their original spelling because modernizing the names would not contribute to the clarity of the passage.
The comical History of
For she is wise, if I can judge of her,
and fair she is, if that mine eyes be true,
and true she is, as she hath proved herself:
And therefore like herself, wise, fair, and true,
shall she be placed in my constant soul.1
What, art thou come, on gentleman, away,
our masking mates2 by this time for us stay. Exit.
Anthonio. Who's there?
Gratiano. Signior Anthonio?
Anthonio. Fie, fie Gratiano, where are all the rest?
Tis nine o’clock, our friends all stay for you,
No mask tonight, the wind is come about
Bassanio presently3will go aboard,
I have sent twenty out to seek for you.
Gratiano. I am glad on’t, I desire no more delight
then to be under sail, and gone to night. Exeunt.
Enter Portia with Morrocho and both their trains.
Portia. Go, draw aside the curtains and discover4
the several caskets to this noble Prince:
Now make your choice.
Morrocho. This first of gold, who5 this inscription bears,
Who chooseth me, shall gain what many men desire.
The second silver, which this promise carries,
Who chooseth me, shall get as much as he deserves.
This third, dull lead, with warning all as blunt,
Who chooseth me, must give and hazard6 all he hath.
How shall I know if I do choose the right?
Portia. The one of them contains my picture Prince,
if you choose that, then I am yours withal.7
Morrocho. Some God direct8 my judgement, let me see,
I will survey th'inscriptions, back again,
What says this leaden casket?
Who chooseth me, must give and hazard all he hath,
Must give, for what? for lead, hazard for lead?
This casket threatens men that hazard all
Words of Judgement
Words of Comparison
Words of Religion
Image credit: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library, copy G.176.16. The most excellent historie of the merchant of Venice. First Quarto. London: 1600.
Citing this page: Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice, D2v. London: 1600. Cacodemon Digital Shakespeare. Edited by Tenzing Briggs, Awliyo Hussein, and Evelyn Ogier. Source edition: Rare Books & Manuscripts Department, Boston Public Library (copy G.176.16). http://cacodemonshakespeare.com/comedies/merchant/d2v.
- Lorenzo’s reference to his “constant soul” in the context of discussing Jessica’s qualities lends a religious dimension both to him and to Jessica. His “soul” has religious connotations, as the element of traditional Christianity that endures on into the afterlife, and the characterization of it as “constant” also plays upon this religious connotation. That Jessica is “placed” there imbues the relationship between her and Lorenzo with a religious element as well. Lorenzo exercises judgment in attributing certain qualities to her, and those judgements quickly create religious undertones considering that Jessica is a convert from Judaism to Christianty. By relating those qualities that make her worthy to share in Lorenzo’s “constant soul,” Shakespeare might be implying that these are specifically Christian qualities or, at least, that they are qualities which Christian characters value. Moreover, the fact that these judgements lead to her being “placed” within Lorenzo’s soul imply again religious connotation, as it echoes the same process of one being judged by the divine to be given a place in heaven.
- Referring to those taking part in the Bassanio’s masquerade.
- Immediately. Shakespeare, William. “The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice.” The Norton Shakespeare: The Essential Plays/The Sonnets. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et.al. 3rd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, pp. 300.
- Reveal or find. Shakespeare, William. “The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice.” The Norton Shakespeare: The Essential Plays/The Sonnets. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et.al. 3rd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, pp. 300.
- Which. Shakespeare, William. “The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice.” The Norton Shakespeare: The Essential Plays/The Sonnets. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et.al. 3rd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, pp. 300.
- Portia’s lead casket subtly points to religious themes of judgement. Since choosing this casket means to “hazard all he hath,” it plays into Christian ideas of faith. On one level, judgement is involved just in the deciding on whether or not to pick the lead casket; on another level, the choosing of one casket is, itself, a judgement of the character of the chooser. In other words, Shakespeare implies that to choose to hazard all speaks to a strong, positive character. In turn, this could be connected from a religious standpoint as a kind of “leap of faith, echoing Christian values of faith. Thus, this implies that to “hazard,” reflects both strong judgement (the correct course of action) and strong character (the correct kind of suitor).
- With it. Shakespeare, William. “The Comical History of the Merchant of Venice.” The Norton Shakespeare: The Essential Plays/The Sonnets. Edited by Stephen Greenblatt, et.al. 3rd ed., W.W. Norton & Company, 2015, pp. 301.
- Morocco is asking for divine guidance as he evaluates the caskets. Daring to choose a casket in the first place is an incredible risk, and as he does not trust his own judgement, he wishes to pass it off to a higher power. The idea of great risk for great reward and relying on divine guidance is primarily associated with the business practices of the Christian characters, such as Antonio, who dare to send their wealth away on merchant ships in the hope of gaining more once they return. As such, it’s interesting that Morocco invokes this strategy by referring to “some God,” not the singular Abramahic God.